Monday, May 30, 2011

Burning Questions Answered

So... On Thursday last week I asked what you wanted to know. Right away I saw a theme emerge. FEAR. 

Dean K Miller asked: How do you deal with, or feel about, the fears associated with writing a book, or other piece? Where do you go (internally or externally) to calm those demons? Or do you even have them?

Barbara Watson said: I love reading about writer's struggles. Not because I want writer's lives to be hard but because writing is.

Susan Kaye Quinn asked: 1) What's the scariest thing you've ever thought about writing (not paranormal scary, emotional scary)? Did you write it?
 2) What's the one thing you want to write one day, but don't think you're ready to yet?

See here's the thing, we (writers) have so much in common. And one of those things, for better or worse, is overwhelming fear and doubt. I've blogged about it before, and that's fine. But what I'm going to do here is relate it to myself on a personal level for you. It's something I don't often do, but since you're curious, maybe it will help someone. Maybe it will give you encouragement. Maybe you'll see yourself in me, or say "Gee, other people go through this too."

What am I afraid of when I write a book? What do I struggle with? Lots of things. I've written *counts* 6 complete YA manuscripts. You'd think after the first it would get easier, right? I'd think, hey, my critique group likes my writing overall (i.e., they didn't toss me out of the group). I have an agent, and he likes it. But still. STILL there's that voice saying, what if this one is ridiculous? What if it sucks? What if my characters aren't believable? What if the plot doesn't make sense? What if I'VE GONE TOO FAR? (I'll get to that in a minute) 

How do I deal with those demons? I remember that it doesn't change the fact that I HAVE TO WRITE. I won't be whole unless I am, and I know that about myself now. So even if I never publish another thing I will continue to write. So why wouldn't I try? Why wouldn't I put myself out there? 

Now back to the "WHAT IF I'VE GONE TOO FAR?" thing. Susan asked what the emotionally scariest thing I've ever written is, and whether I even went there. Ahem. Actually YEAH I did. And I continue to do so. 

I blogged about it a bit here. What was it about the writing that scared me? It wasn't just the tense shift, or the POV shifts (e.g., switching gender). It was the material. The dark and edgy subject matter. Torture. Sex. All important to the story and characters of course. 

The result? There was no denying that letting myself go there opened me up to doing a better job. You can't hold back. You have to let yourself go there (wherever there is for you), because that's how you grow as a writer. WRITE WHAT SCARES YOU. It's the absolute best writer advice I've ever heard, and I continue to pass it on whenever I can. 

Can you change things later? Hell yeah. But you may be surprised how little you actually do. Oh and since that time (no not since Halloween. Since I wrote that first scary MS), I've written THREE more manuscripts. Each one has (I believe) taken me forward by leaps and bounds in my writing. I force myself to go there. To take on the difficult issues and characters and do it anyway. And you know what? I'm kind of proud of myself for it. I've seen my writing grow. I'm not saying "I'm an amazing writer you guys," or anything like that. I just mean from where I started to where I am now, I've shown a healthy learning curve. And I know there's always room to improve. So I will keep on writing and stretching and trying. And I will embrace what scares me. 

Susan's last question was what aren't I ready for yet that I hope to write one day. The answer is the perfect manuscript. It won't happen. It doesn't exist. But I'll keep striving toward that anyway.

Hope that answered your questions! If not, or if it opened up more, feel free to ask.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I generally blog about things that I've learned along the way, that I think you might find valuable as well. I try to use new (hopefully interesting) ways of explaining these concepts, because sometimes when things are said a certain way, it suddenly clicks. At least for me. :D

So let me put it out there. Is there something you'd like to hear about? Is there a subject you wish I (or anybody) would cover? Questions you are dying to ask? I want to know.

In the meantime I'd like to leave you some of my favorite quotes. Most about writing, some not. These inspire me, and I tweet them and others. But here's a list for your enjoyment:

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." -- Madeleine L'Engle

"The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." -- Sylvia Plath

"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write." -- Saul Bellow

"You can't blame a writer for what the characters say." -- Truman Capote

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." -- Mark Twain

"Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." -- G.K. Chesterton

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." -- Anais Nin

"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of the words as they tangle with human emotions." -- James A. Michener

"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" -- E.M. Forster

"Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." -- Albert Einstein

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." -- Dr. Seuss

Monday, May 23, 2011


I'm auctioning a critique for CHARITY. So please go bid. Also my self-worth is attached. So you know... no pressure or anything. (A little guilt never hurt)

The Hero - er - WRITER's Journey

I assume you are all aware of Joseph Campbell's 
Hero's Journey? It's the foundation on which much fantasy is built. Think LORD OF THE RINGS. Well it occurs to me that our own journey is much like that of the heroes in our books. Now if you research this, you will see deviations in the steps involved, and it's widely accepted that each journey is going to be slightly different - not all the steps will be used. So I've taken the liberty of exploring how this archetype might apply to us as writers...

  1. CALL TO ADVENTURE: The writer lives in the ordinary world, but something is missing. Then one day she is challenged to write a story. Who sends out the call? Perhaps the story itself. The MC whispers to her subconscious and won't let her go..
  2. MAGICAL HELPER/GUIDE: Once committed to the quest - um, I mean book - the writer is going to need guidance. So she turns to the magical and wise mentors from places such as SCBWI, or other conferences, or even the Blogosphere.
  3. THE FIRST THRESHOLD: No turning back. The writer crosses into the magical world opened by releasing those words to paper (or computer). Suddenly she's not in Kansas anymore, but why would she ever go back?
  4. TESTS AND TASKS: Typically they come in threes. Perhaps this refers to the writer facing critique partners, agents, and publishers. Battling her way through revision and rejection.
  5. SUPREME ORDEAL: We, at some point, hit that low. That I'm-never-going-to-succeed-and-I-should-just-quit phase. But like the beaten and broken hero, we get up and keep going. (We're so swoon worthy)
  6. SEIZING THE SWORD: Despite everything, the writer uses her newfound powers to revise the manuscript, or start on a fresh one, and gets THE CALL.
So looking at this I have to say it's no wonder writers gravitate to this formula... What do you think?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Embracing the Dark Side... of Character

You did know I would fit Damon in here somewhere right? So... we talked on Monday about making a character into a "real person". Real people are flawed. Don't roll your eyes at me and say, "yeah, I've heard it." Because maybe you haven't heard it like this...

How to bring out the Dark Side of your character:
  • Make sure the MC you've chosen is the absolute WRONG person to be put in this situation. Look at the main problem/task/challenge/choice your MC has to face. Take his/her achilles heel and strike at it full force right away. Oooh, now we got something..
  • Make sure that major flaw isn't the ONLY thing your character has trouble with. I know you love your character, but in this case we need tough love. Real people have more than one flaw. We may be working on the major one that flows with the plot for the character arc, but that doesn't mean your MC ends up perfect at the end, does it? NO. Besides, if he/she only has one flaw how will you ever do a sequel?? LOL
  • Be the Devil. Not literally silly. What I mean is use temptation. Throw everything you can at that sucker. Make it so that your MC will suffer by doing the right thing and be rewarded (at least on the surface) by the wrong choice.
  • Let him give in. Don't stop it. If you start typing something you aren't proud of on his behalf, suck it up and do it. Let the character make the decision and guide you. You know what I'm talking about.
  • Show his inner conflict. Don't hide it. Let us see what drives him, what he's wrestling with. Please take a couple of minutes to watch this scene. It REALLY demonstrates this most important point. Warning - it is graphic.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Giving Voice to a Monster

Love YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Here's the video link for the big number. You're welcome.


One of the main ingredients for a successful novel is having a relatable character. Your MC may be a vampire/alien/werewolf/zombie/Greek god or just Susie next door. It doesn't matter. What is imperative is that whoever it is, she's someone the reader can identify with. So how do we do that? How do we take a monster and give them a normal teenage (if we're talking YA) voice?

The key word here is "normal". You have to think of your MC (and any other character for that matter) as a whole person. Someone with the same thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants as the rest of us. Okay, so he's a werewolf. Fine. Then he's a normal person with an "extra issue". Now I'm not trying to be politically correct here. We're not going to start calling paranormal creatures "supernaturally challenged" or anything. I just want you to make sure you understand each character HAS to be a whole person.

Why was TWILIGHT so popular? Vampires? Nope. IMHO it was the romance. The teen angst. Etc. Now I'm not here to debate the execution (I certainly have my own opinions) or to suggest sparkly, brooding, shirtless (though this never hurts) entities. It's been done. Obviously. What I am suggesting is that Ms. Meyer took feelings that are meaningful to real teens and magnified those by using certain complications and devices.

I don't have a list for you today. I can't hand you bullet points for this. There are so many posts out there on character development, heck I've done several and will probably continue to do so. Maybe you interview your characters and do worksheets. Maybe you make collages. Maybe you know where they grew up and what their favorite color is. IDK. But no matter what your process is, or how cool your idea is, I want you to promise me one thing.

Remember that your character is a person and not a personification.

When we get so wrapped up in plot and structure and style and original ideas, we can lose sight of the fact that writing is ALWAYS about the human condition. And when you do find that human voice and tell the story through that perspective, I guarantee your work will be vastly improved, no matter how beautiful your writing is otherwise. Filtering through character was one of my most popular posts. But to do that successfully, we have to first have a grasp on the character we're filtering through.

Friday, May 13, 2011

When Is It Time To Move On?

Serious title, huh? It is a pretty important question. You've poured your soul into your manuscript. You've sweated, sacrificed, cried, and celebrated. You've written fifty drafts, put it in a drawer for a month, had a critique group and twelve beta readers look at it. You've woken up at 3AM just to fix that one sentence that was bothering you.

So you query. You write, rewrite, edit, get critiques, and rewrite it again. You send it out and sit at your computer hitting refresh on your inbox so much you break the mouse. WHY DON'T THEY GET BACK TO ME? You wonder. And when they do, you wonder HOW CAN THEY REJECT IT SO FAST? You're an emotional shipwreck.

You get some rejections and some requests for partials and fulls. You query ten agents, wait, then repeat until you've queried 100 times. In the end, the phone never rings. YOU DON'T GET THE CALL. You eat a tub of ice-cream. You cry. You call/email/DM all your writer friends who understand. (Notice I didn't say blog or tweet about it). And you want to know, WHY? Why wasn't my best good enough?

What do you do?

Do you give up? NO. You don't. Because you know that perseverance is the key to success. That you constantly learn more, get better, grow.

Do you Throw the manuscript in the drawer and start from scratch? Well, that depends. But the simple answer is YES. It's okay to love it. It's okay to want to publish it someday. Maybe you will. But for now you need to start a new WIP if you haven't already. Because you should always be writing and working and learning. And maybe this will be the one.

Each one is a learning experience. Each one helps you grow as a writer. Especially if you - say it with me now - WRITE WHAT SCARES YOU. To borrow a cliche, don't put all your eggs in one basket. (kind of like don't put all your werewolves in one room because they'll rip each other apart and make an awful mess, but I digress).

I bet you are more than one great book. I bet you are a great writer. And I'm not talking about the sequel you've had planned in your six book series. Resist the urge. If you must, then outline it, but the new book should be just that. A completely new book.

This business is subjective. It's many times about finding the right person at the right time. But you CAN make your work and yourself as polished and ready as possible so that you don't let that opportunity slide by unrealized.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blogging Etiquette

I wasn't going to do this post, but it was requested after my Twitter Etiquette post last week. I don't claim to be the blogging expert. But I will share with you some do's and don'ts that I've picked up on the way.

  • Provide content that is of VALUE to the reader. Meaning don't go on about your day yesterday, and how much you prefer peanut M&Ms to plain. At least not EVERY time. You don't have to have super writing advice or anything, but you do have to make it worth my while to read it. A unique point of view (forgive the pun on my title) or some interesting facts. Maybe a comparison I can relate to.
  • Reciprocate by commenting on the blogs of those who take the time to do the same for you. I try to do this right away if I'm at all able. And I LOVE visiting your blogs.
  • Make it easy to find and pass the blog info on. See how I'm using these little bullet doohickies? That makes it easier on your eyes. I also make sure the print is LARGE. So if you want to skim, even though I want you to read it all, you CAN. The title is another way to make it easy to find. You can tell what I'm talking about here. Sometimes I make them funny (or so I think). I also link between Twitter and my website to make it easy to find my blog. I even provide you with a nifty little button so you can SHARE the post or FOLLOW me. Isn't that nice?
  • Find what works for you and stick to it. Find your niche. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do exactly with this blog, but now that I have, I'm having a blast!
  • Comment if you read a post. You took the time to read it. Why wouldn't you say hello and let the blogger know what you thought? If they follow my etiquette rules, they'll do the same for you!
  • Write novel-length diatribes. I may love you, but when my eyes start crossing and my vision gets blurry from looking at your blogpost it's a problem. The simple truth is I'd end up skimming if I read it at all.
  • Leave a generic comment that really says "I didn't bother to actually read this" or worse yet "You should check out MY blog!" Unless you have a post on the same subject or something. If you're just advertising, you're far better off being friendly. You catch more flies with honey you know!!
  • Rant. I know I keep beating you over the head with this, but really, please, DO NOT air your tantrums in public. If you write it online, whether in a comment or a post, it is going to be read. And the more angry/inappropriate/hotheaded it is, the more it will spread. It's kind of like when there's an accident and people slow down to take a look. It's morbid curiosity. But you can ruin your reputation in a heartbeat.
  • Blog just because you think you're supposed to. This takes commitment folks. If you don't enjoy it, not only will it probably show, but you'll end up giving in at some point because it takes a lot of work. Do it if you like it. Luckily it's writing and most of us naturally gravitate to that.
  • Post your work online in hopes of critique. I see this a lot. A. If you post it, it's considered published, and if it's long enough that could cause issues if you actually want to publish it. B. It might not be the kind of thing you want to advertise. Maybe it's *gasp* not as good as you originally thought and an agent/editor stops by and isn't impressed. Or maybe you put it up a year ago, and an agent with your full says, "hmm, I wonder why it's taken so long to find an agent, maybe I should rethink this". Is this likely to happen? No. But YOU NEVER KNOW.
Hopefully this was helpful. Did I miss anything?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where Does This Chapter End

I was working on my WIP the other day, and became curious. So I tweeted a question. How long are your chapters? Well I got answers anywhere from 1000 to 5000 words. One person even pointed out some books that had chapters only a few words long.

The thing is, it depends. It depends on where the natural breaking point is. If we think of a chapter as a sort of mini-book we won't have to worry about things like length. How do we do that? Make sure it has a
  • beginning (problem/point of change)
  • middle (rising action/conflict)
  • end (resolution/action to address the conflict)
Let's use an example. Because I know you love those. Plus I have to bring in the "paranormal" somewhere, right? Let's go with our ghost example from my filtering through character post. Remember? Ghost is haunting her ex-boyfriend (Erik) who is taking another girl to prom. In our fake chapter let's have our ghost try to ruin the evening by messing with the prom date (Heather) at dinner...
  • Beginning: We start with the problem. Jealousy. Q: what's the first thing your character thinks or notices? A: The way Erik's hand rests on the small of Heather's back
  • Middle: This is where the meat of the action/conflict takes place Q: What would my MC do to solve the problem? A: Manipulate objects like food and drink spilling on Heather to make her look bad. Tripping her. Maybe even pushing her at the last second so she bumps heads with Erik when he goes to kiss her
  • End: Resolution. Q: What happens as a result of the MC's actions? A: Erik feels bad for Heather when she starts to cry, and tells her she looks good with spaghetti in her hair. Maybe he puts some on his own head to make her laugh and holds her head steady so he can carefully plant a kiss...
That works out well, no? A kiss after all that is a nice page turn. How long is this chapter? No idea. Probably pretty short (though honestly for me that's typical) but it really doesn't matter. What matters is it's a complete unit that's furthered both the overarching plot and character development. It has to be satisfying, yet make you want to keep reading. Piece of cake, right?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Twitter Etiquette

Yep that little guy is a magician. I'm pretty sure Twitter is made of rainbows and pixie dust. And as you may have noticed I am very active on Twitter. But do you really understand how the magic of Twitter works? I hope so. If not, I'm here to give you a few do's and don'ts...

  • Remember it's a PUBLIC forum. This means that anyone who follows you, or searches for something you might have mentioned can see your Tweets. That's a GOOD thing. But if you think you're having a private conversation just because you're @ tweeting someone? Newsflash: Other people can see it. So only say what you would in public. And be prepared for others to jump in the conversation. If they do, welcome and include them. Please.
  • Tweet links to help out other writers. Share the love the same way you do in the blogosphere! I click on links all the time, and I try to tweet those I think are especially useful to other writers, and explain why. This helps 1. The blogger that wrote it. 2. Someone who may benefit from reading it. 3. You.
  • Use Hashtags. There are many that writers follow. Such as, #amwriting #amrevising, #query and #writetip. Also make up your own! #Cuzitsfun and #writersarealittlecrazythatway
  • Participate in online chats. like #YaLitChat #WritersRoad and #KidLitChat. It can make you dizzy watching the tweets fly, but it's a ton of fun and I promise if you do more than lurk it'll be worth it! Don't know where to start? Try this link from @InkyElbows.
  • Retweet things that deserve a RT. You clicked on a link you liked? A quote that inspired? A comment that struck a chord? Pass it on!
  • Use Twitter solely for self-promotion. When someone follows me, I click on them. I look at your bio, possibly others I trust who follow you, and your LAST SEVERAL TWEETS. If I see you promoting your book or blog several times in a row, I can't close the window fast enough. IF I see you saying things of value, whether that's humorous, annectdotal, or links/retweets of interest, I go ahead and follow you back. Then if you occasionally tweet for yourself, I forgive you. And I MIGHT EVEN BE INTERESTED IN SUPPORTING YOU!
  • Give a play by play of your life. Please. I don't need to know you brushed your teeth this morning and when. Unless you accidentally used mousse... So if you can make it interesting, GREAT! But if there's no emotion, no reason, etc. then it probably didn't need to be tweeted.
  • Say anything you might regret later. I know I touched on this above, but it's such an important point. You should be yourself, but you should also remember that what you say represents you. So if you say something unprofessional you might regret it later.
Did I miss anything? Do you like Twitter? Why and why not?